On August 8, 2018, the Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) City Council resolved to pay $125,000 to a now retired police officer who said that he was subjected to racial slurs and racial discrimination.

In his lawsuit, Stephen Petrosino, who described himself as being “of African-American and Caucasian decent [sic],” claimed that other Perth Amboy police officers called him “half-breed” at least once a week since he started working as a City police officer in 1992.  Petrosino alleged that “Sgt. Montalvo” (presumably Sergeant Andy Montalvo) would call him a “thumbprint” during roll call and “blacky black” on other occasions.  Other officers, who were overwhelmingly Caucasian, according to the lawsuit, would join in when Montalvo would call Petrosino derogatory names during roll call.

“Lt. Killane” (presumably Lieutenant Steve Killane) allegedly told Petrosino, in response to his complaints about Montalvo’s comments, that “one day [Petrosino] was white and that the next day [Petrosino] was black.”

Petrosino claimed that other officers placed “pictures of two of the Little Rascals, specifically Buckwheat and Stymie, . . . with captions stating that it was Officer Petrosino and Officer Rogers, an officer of African-American decent [sic].”

Petrosino retired in 2017 and collects a $64,279 “special” pension annually, according to DataUniverse.  His final salary for the City was $107,880.

The case is captioned Petrosino v. Perth Amboy Police Department, et al, Docket No. MID-L-442-16 and Petrosino’s attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Petrosino $125,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]